Rocco takes to heart being a true champion hunting retriever, ‘efficiently, fast and with style’

Art Costa’s yellow Lab, Rocco, met and embraced the grueling challenge to become a true champion hunting retriever, a GRHRCH.

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Rocco, Art Costa’s champion yellow Lab, poses with his latest honors. Provided

Rocco, Art Costa’s champion yellow Lab, poses with his latest honors.

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Even Rocco’s name is special.

“My dad wanted to name me Rocco, my mom said no,” Art Costa said.

He wishes his late parents, John and Annamae, could see how special Rocco, a 5-year-old male yellow Lab, is.

Rocco earned his GRHRCH (Grand Hunting Retriever Champion) Oct. 26 at the HRC Grand Championship in La Vergne, Tennessee.

Dan Ihrke, who manages Green Acres Sportsman’s Club in Roberts with his wife Cindy and is the head trainer of “Gun Dog Success” (where Rocco trains), explained the Grand.

Ihrke likes it for the hunting setting.

Rocco is a hunting dog.

“He can watch a bird drop and he can mark it,” said Costa, a retired carpenter/owner from Palos Park. “He knows where the bird is at. When he flushes a bird, he automatically sits. Then, after you shoot, marks it. When you miss, he looks at you like, `What the heck?’ He’s a good marker and he is fast.”

Rocco, a champion yellow Lab, and owner Art Costas in the field. Provided

Rocco, a champion yellow Lab, and owner Art Costas in the field. Provided

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Dogs must qualify to reach the Grand, which includes marking and retrieving a triple, then a blind retrieve with handler directions. Dogs must be under control and honor other dogs.

Dogs are judged on line obedience, control on the blind retrieve, ability to mark and remember, etc.

The Grand spreads those tests, alternating land and water, over four days. If the dog makes it through four days, the fifth day is an upland test.

“They have to have a certain level of maturity and be naturally biddable,” Ihrke said. “Plus they have be very good at marking.”

Marking is more than watching where the bird falls. Wind, water, terrain, cover changes and diversions figure in.

“They must remember where the birds fell and what kind of factors they face,” Ihrke said. “I wish I could draw you the first test we did, very difficult.”

Rocco, Art Costa’s champion yellow Lab, working water at the Grand with trainer Dan Ihrke. Provided

Rocco, Art Costa’s champion yellow Lab, working water at the Grand with trainer Dan Ihrke. Provided

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Handlers are allowed one assist on the mark and retrieves.

“Once you exceed that one mistake, you’re gone,” Ihrke said. “You pretty much get one mulligan, to keep it simple.”

To earn the GRHRCH, the dog must pass two Grands.

Then there’s luck: Time of day, field conditions, morning or afternoon, wind direction, temperature, where the sun is, visual conditions.

“No matter what, you have to be a great dog to get through this test,” Ihrke said. “This is no anomaly. I think the Grand is the best titling system for a dog for people being able to understand.

“The Grand has everything that goes into a great hunting dog. There’s the chaos of a crazy hunt. Then they throw in the upland at the end. Not just live birds, but all the people who made it through to the last day. The dogs are cranked up. They can tell the difference between a blank and a 12-gauge.

“Then they are in the holding area through four or five other dogs. Your dog has literally sat for an hour. He’s seeing guys in blaze orange and hearing shots.

“You can imagine, dogs are crazy excited by that time. Doesn’t sound that complex, but it is very challenging for the dogs. It separates the dogs that can’t hold their composure from the ones who can’t. That is the Grand.”

As to Rocco, Ihrke said, “He was just supposed to be an upland dog, but I realized his potential was much higher. I said, `This dog is really talented and he could go far.’ “

Costa agreed.

“The dog’s personality is tremendous drive, it took us a little while to get him to keep his composure,” Ihrke said. “He gets up to the line and he is intense. You shoot a bird, the dog is going to get it: efficiently, fast and with style.”

Rocco, a champion yellow Lab, as a puppy with owner Art Costas. Provided

Rocco, a champion yellow Lab, as a puppy with owner Art Costas. Provided

Provided

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